What is the Koine Greek word for “a capella”? Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 use G103 (ᾄδοντες). But, from the usage in the Septuagint, that word is not restricted to singing without musical accompaniment (1 Samuel 18:6, 2 Chronicles 23:13, Psalm 33:3, to list a few examples).

Also, if there are any ancient manuscripts that use the word (maybe Socrates or someone?), that would be even better. Thanks!

2 Answers 2


There's no such word. ᾠδή - ōdē and ᾄδω - adō means noun:Song and verb:to sing.

Psalm means song of praise with or without instrument but it's etymology is from vigration of instruments, so mainly with instrument chords.

BIB Ephesians 5:19: “λαλοῦντες (speaking) ἑαυτοῖς (to each other) [ἐν] (in) ψαλμοῖς (psalms) καὶ (and) ὕμνοις (hymns) καὶ (and) ᾠδαῖς (songs) πνευματικαῖς (spiritual), ᾄδοντες (singing) καὶ (and) ψάλλοντες (making melody) τῇ (in the) καρδίᾳ (heart) ὑμῶν (of you) τῷ (to the) Κυρίῳ (Lord),”

BDAG3 reference on psallo: to sing of praise.

ψάλλω fut. ψαλῶ (Aeschyl.+; ins, LXX; TestAbr A 20 p. 103, 26f [Stone p. 54]; TestJob 14:2, 4; Jos., Ant. 11, 67; 12, 349; Just.; Mel., P. 80, 588; Did.) in our lit., in accordance w. OT usage, to sing songs of praise, with or without instrumental accompaniment, sing, sing praise w. dat. of the one for whom the praise is intended τῷ ὀνόματί σου ψαλῶ Ro 15:9 (Ps 17:50). ψαλλῶ σοι B 6:16 (Ps 107:4). τῷ κυρίῳ Eph 5:19: in this pass. a second dat. is added τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμῶν in or with your hearts; here ψ. is found with ᾂδω (as Ps 26:6; 32:3; 56:8), and the question arises whether a contrast betw. the two words is intended. The original mng. of ψ. was ‘pluck’, ‘play’ (a stringed instrument); this persisted at least to the time of Lucian (cp. Par. 17). In the LXX ψ. freq. means ‘sing’, whether to the accompaniment of an instrument (Ps 32:2, 97:5 al.) or not, as is usually the case (Ps 7:18; 9:12; 107:4 al.). This focus on singing continued until ψ. in Mod. Gk. means ‘sing’ exclusively; cp. ψάλτης=singer, chanter, w. no ref. to instrumental accompaniment

Etymology of "a capella" reveals this Latin Italian word itself doesn't exclude instrument accompaniment.

a cappella 1868, earlier alla capella (1824), from Italian, "in the style of Church music, in the manner of the chapel," literally "according to the chapel," from cappella "chapel" (see chapel). Originally in reference to older church music (pre-1600) which was written for unaccompanied voices; applied 20c. to unaccompanied vocal music generally. Italian a is from Latin ad "to, toward; for; according to" (see ad-); alla is a la "to the." Sometimes in the Latin form a capella.

Also denoting "that instruments are to play in unison with the voices, or that one part is to be played by a number instruments." ["Chambers's' Encyclopaedia," 1868]

You are not the first person puzzled by the expression "A Capella," or, at any rate, unable to understand it should signify the exact reverse of what it literally does signify. The chorales in oratorios were invariably accompanied, either by double-bass or the whole band. Hence they were, with perfect correctness, said to be performed "a capella." But, as other chorales, sung as part of the church service, were written in the same and simple style the expression "a capella" came in time to be applied to them also, despite their being sung without any instrumental accompaniment whatever. [The Music World, Sept. 11, 1875]

Entries linking to a cappella chapel (n.) early 13c., "subordinate place of worship added to or forming part of a large church or cathedral, separately dedicated and devoted to special services," from Old French chapele (12c., Modern French chapelle), from Medieval Latin capella, cappella "chapel, sanctuary for relics," literally "little cape," diminutive of Late Latin cappa "cape"

The modern meaning of a capella is a myth. Wikipedia:

A cappella (/ˌɑː kəˈpɛlə/, also UK: /ˌæ -/, Italian: [a kkapˈpɛlla]; Italian for ''in the style of the chapel'') music is a performance by a singer or a singing group without instrumental accompaniment, or a piece intended to be performed in this way. The term a cappella was originally intended to differentiate between Renaissance polyphony and Baroque concertato musical styles. In the 19th century, a renewed interest in Renaissance polyphony, coupled with an ignorance of the fact that vocal parts were often doubled by instrumentalists, led to the term coming to mean unaccompanied vocal music.(Holmes 2007)

I suppose praise singing or religious worship singing involves instruments, but a song of lamentation alone will lack instruments.

  • 2
    Welcome, Michael16, and thanks for the information on a capella. I wasn't aware of its history.
    – cmw
    Jul 18, 2022 at 14:13
  • 2
    The modern meaning of the word is what it is. There are many words (especially those originally technical in some field) which have acquired their meanings through misunderstanding or ignorance - two that grate with me as a musician are crescendo and downbeat. But it makes no sense to describe the meaning as "a myth".
    – Colin Fine
    Jul 29, 2022 at 17:47

Ἀνόργανη as in ἀνόργανη μελῳδία (singing without instruments) in order to express unaccompanied vocal music; this is not an attestation but a reconstruction (e.g. based on ὄργανον and placing ἀν in front to signify lack of); also ὄργανον is where the term for church organ comes from.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.